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Rome - An Italian court on Friday issued jail sentences ranging from 4 to 9-and-a-half years for 27 former managers of the ILVA steelworks, blaming them for contributing to the deaths of 31 workers through exposure to asbestos.

The harshest convictions were meted out to public sector managers Sergio Noce and Giovanbattista Spallanzani, who led the firm - the largest steelworks in Europe, based in the southern city of Taranto - before its privatization in 1995.

Emilio, the patriarch of the Riva family who bought ILVA from the state, was one of the defendants but he died on April 30 aged 88. His son Fabio, a fugitive who is resisting extradition attempts from Britain, was given a six-year jail term.

The rulings can be appealed. In Italy jail sentences are normally not executed until a final verdict. Fabio Riva is embroiled in separate legal cases concerning the breach of environmental laws and large scale financial fraud.

His family still owns ILVA, but the government has taken over its running, in a bid to safeguard the jobs of the 13 000 people who work there.